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Did you know you can reduce your risk of dying in a home fire by half, just by having working smoke detectors in your home?
Fortunately, smoke detectors are widely available and affordable. Today’s smoke alarms range from basic smoke detection with loud alarms to smart-home enabled devices with phone notifications. Depending on how many bells and whistles you want, smoke alarms cost between $10 to upwards of $100.
To find the best smoke detector for your home, check out our top picks and read our buyer’s guide.
Best Smoke Detectors
Editor’s Pick – First Alert BRK 9120B Hardwired Smoke Alarm with Battery Backup
Best CO/Smoke Combination Alarm – Kidde Battery Operated Combination Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarm KN-COSM-BA
Best Smart Alarm – Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Second Generation)
Best Wireless Alarm – First Alert SA511CN2-3ST Interconnected Wireless Smoke Alarm with Voice Location
The First Alert BRK 9120B is a hardwired alarm with a 9-volt battery backup, keeping your home protected regardless of power outages. When you purchase through Amazon, you can also purchase expert installation at the same time.
The alarm is equipped to interconnect with up to 12 other First Alert smoke alarms, as well as 6 more compatible devices, like bells or door closers. Not only will these sound off simultaneously once one alarm is triggered, but a light indicator notifies you which device set off the alarm, so you know which one needs to be cleaned, looked at, or replaced—instead of having to exhaust yourself testing all the devices.
The 85-decibel alarm is loud enough to wake you up, but with a silence/test-combo button, it’s easy to hush false alarms and test the alarm on a monthly basis, too.
For about $12 a unit, this is an affordable way to equip your home with solid smoke and fire protection, making it our Editor’s Choice. Although, as an ionization-only alarm, you’ll still want to get photoelectric alarms to detect slower-burning fires.
The Kidde KN-COSM-BA is a combination smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm, eliminating the need to install (and spend money) on multiple devices, while providing your home with the protection you need.
In addition to an 85-decibel sound alarm, the Kidde KN-COSM-BA also activates a voice alarm, saying “Fire!”, “Warning Carbon Monoxide,” or “Low Battery.” Different-colored LED lights indicate whether the alarm is working properly, needs a battery replacement, or a danger is present. The alarm comes with all the mounting accessories you need, and the battery door will not close unless the alarm has been installed properly, making installation worry-free.
However, as this is an ionization-only alarm, you’ll need to purchase additional, photo-electric or dual sensor smoke alarms for the rest of your home. Also, while the expected lifespan is 10 years, the alarm is covered by only a 5-year warranty. For about $30, though, this is a good value for protecting your home from both smoke and carbon monoxide.
The Nest Protect is smart-home enabled, so it connects with other compatible devices in your home over WiFi, and alerts you on both the physical device as well as your smartphone whenever it senses smoke.
As a smart smoke detector, it may use other Nest devices to help alert you, like flashing light bulbs on other appliances. The 85 decibel alarm also includes voice alerts which clearly indicate which room of your house the smoke is coming from, so you can guide yourself to safety.
The Nest Protect does away with the annoying low-battery chirp that drives homeowners crazy. Instead, this smart smoke alarm warns you proactively when the battery is low via a smartphone notification, thanks to its auto-testing feature. The app also sends notifications for dangerous carbon monoxide levels and smoke emergencies. Plus, you can silence false alarms from your phone, instead of physically having to push a button.
Like most smoke alarms, the Nest Protect is designed to last for 10 years, but it only comes with a 2-year warranty. As a dual-sensor, carbon monoxide/smoke combination alarm, the Nest provides all the protection you need in a single device—with features to spare, like a motion-activated LED night light. Of course, that explains the high price tag over $100.
The Kidde i4618AC interconnects with other Firex smoke alarms, enabling you to create a network of smoke detection throughout your home. As a hardwired unit, you may want to hire expert installation. However, with a front-loading battery door, it’s easy to replace the 9-volt battery on your own without having to dismount the unit.
A separate low battery indicator makes locating the offending smoke alarm a quick and painless process. The hush button effectively silences false alarms for 8 minutes, at which point it will go off if the issue hasn’t been addressed.
The downsides to this alarm are its warranty and ionization-only functionality. While the Kiddie i4618AC is designed to work for 10 years, it only comes with a 5-year warranty. And as an ionization alarm, you’ll still need to purchase photoelectric alarms to fully protect your home. However, for under $15, this is a good-quality smoke alarm that you can rely on.
The First Alert SA511CN2-3ST combines the security of interconnected systems with the ease of installation of battery-only smoke detectors. The batteries are intuitive to install and all the mounting hardware comes included. Since the smoke alarm relies on a wireless network instead of hardwiring, it’s quick to set up and connect the other alarms in your home. Speaking of which, the device can be connected to up to 18 more smoke alarms, making the First Alert SA511CN2-3ST a great fit for larger homes.
The 85-decibel alarm also doubles as a voice alarm, allowing you to program 11 locations to notify you where the smoke is present. Whenever the battery is low, you’ll be notified by a chirp and a different-colored LED light.
The alarms come in a two-pack for around $70. As a photoelectric sensor, the First Alert SA511CN2-3ST is better for detecting smoldering fires, and homeowners will need to purchase additional ionization alarms to fully protect their home.
When buying a smoke detector, it’s important that you make an informed purchase that will support the safety of you and your loved ones in your home. Keep an eye out for these features to help determine the best smoke detector for your needs.
Smoke detectors are available in three main varieties: ionization smoke detectors, photoelectric smoke detectors, and dual-sensor smoke detectors.
Ionization smoke detectors detect flares and flaming fires that develop quickly. The particles produced by these fires are smaller than the ones detected by photoelectric smoke detectors, which detect the larger particles associated with slower-burning, smoky fires. Dual-sensors smoke detectors combien both technologies in order to detect both types of fires.
Since all fires are dangerous, regardless of type (flare vs. smolder), dual-sensor smoke detectors are your best option for alerting you in the instance of a fire and keeping you safe.
Smoke detectors rely on one of two power sources: your home wiring, or batteries.
Hardwired smoke detectors are wired into your wall or ceiling, and typically interconnect with other smoke detectors in your home (when one sounds, the others will sound, too). Because they’re part of an interconnected system and require professional installation, they’re usually more expensive. Hardwired smoke alarms include a battery backup, so the device keeps working even if the power goes out.
Battery-only smoke detectors are easier to install and cheaper, since you can DIY the installation. The batteries will either be widely available, like AA, or lithium. AA batteries need to be replaced on a regular basis, usually annually or semi-annually, while lithium batteries are sealed within the device and designed to last for the 10-year lifespan of the detector. Battery-only smoke detectors can also be interconnected; they’ll just use a wireless connection to speak with the other units, instead of your electrical wiring.
Battery-powered smoke detectors will let you know when the battery is low by issuing a chirping sound or verbal message, indicating it on a visual display, or sending you a smartphone notification.
Smoke detectors include a hush button you can push in the event of a false alarm. You simply press the button to silence the alarm. If the danger remains present (whether it’s smoke or simply dust interfering with the sensor), the alarm will go off again after a short period.
You can buy standalone smoke detectors, or combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, which detect both smoke and carbon monoxide. Combination alarms are typically more expensive, due to their expanded functionality.
Some smoke detectors are smart home-enabled. Typically, these are combination carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.
Smart smoke detectors will connect to your home wifi to provide notifications through your smartphone app about the status of the detector (including its battery life), and alert you to fires even when you’re not home (allowing you to stay safely outside and call the fire department).
These may also connect with other smart devices in your home to assist with alerting you, such as flashing lights in addition to sound, and may be voice-activated.
Always buy a smoke detector that has a Underwriters Laboratories Standard (UL) label. This indicates the smoke alarm meets global safety standards.
Smoke detectors with voice alerts will alert you verbally to the danger, in addition to sounding the alarm. The smoke detector may even tell you which room in the house the smoke is coming from.
Smoke alarms typically have at least one LED light indicating the status of the alarm or its battery (red is bad, green is good).
However, in addition to sounding the alarm, some smoke detectors will also light up as an alarm feature, to aid the hearing-impaired and those who may sleep through an alarm. Alternately, some alarms activate a nightlight intended to provide illumination if the alarm goes off during the night.
Would you like to know more about how smoke detectors work, and the best way to use them? You’ll find answers to questions like these below.
Each year, thousands of deaths, and even more injuries, are caused by home fires. Sadly, many of these may have been preventable. Over a third of home fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms.
This is why both the CDC and the National Fire Protection Association strongly recommend outfitting your home with a well-maintained smoke detector system. Most states require smoke alarms in residential structures, although the specific guidelines may vary by state. You can find the laws for your state using this interactive map.
Besides the safety of you and your loved ones, there are additional benefits to having a smoke detector. The sooner you’re alerted to a fire in your home, the sooner you’ll be able to call the fire department and minimize your property damage. Some insurance companies also offer homeowners a discount for having smoke detectors installed in their home.
The way smoke detectors work depends on their sensor technology: ionization or photoelectric.
Ionization smoke detectors are designed to detect the smaller particles indicative of fast, flaming fires. Inside the smoke alarm, there are two electrically charged plates, creating an ionized current in the air between them. There is a small amount of radioactive material in that space. When smoke enters the alarm, it causes a reaction that triggers the alarm.
Photoelectric smoke detectors are designed to detect slower-burning, smoldering fires, which have larger particles. These devices are photoelectric because they use light to detect the smoke. Inside the alarm, a light is aimed closeby, but not exactly targeting a sensor, which is also located in the alarm. When smoke enters the alarm, it refracts the light, so some of it ends up hitting the sensor, sounding the alarm.
Dual sensor smoke alarms combine both of these technologies into a single smoke detector.
Neither ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors are not inherently better than each other; they just detect different types of fires.
Ionization smoke detectors are more sensitive to fast fires, so they may be more likely to signal a false alarm, especially if they’re in areas of your home that naturally produce high temperatures quickly (like a bathroom or kitchen). Photoelectric smoke alarms may be better-suited for those areas.
Because each device is better at detecting a certain type of fire more quickly, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends having both types of alarms in your home, or using dual-sensor alarms.
Because smoke rises, smoke detectors should be placed on a ceiling or high up on a wall. You should place a smoke detector on each floor of your home, including attics and basements. You should also have an alarm placed in every bedroom and in every hallway outside a sleeping area.
Ideally, the smoke detector outside each bedroom should be a dual-sensor smoke detector. Otherwise, you’ll need to place both a ionization detector and photoelectric detector outside each bedroom.
To avoid false alarms, the smoke alarm should be placed on a ceiling away from dust or clutter. Place ionization smoke detectors at least 10 feet away from any household appliances which may trigger the alarm, such as a stove or clothes dryer.
Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. Test your smoke alarm on a monthly basis to ensure it’s in good working condition and the battery is still functioning properly. Also vacuum the alarm monthly to prevent dust from building up and triggering the alarm.
All smoke alarms will come with safety instructions. Review these for additional maintenance advice.